Want to know what past attendees thought of their experience? Read below to find out:
Party to the Process: Making the Most of the AED Washington Fly-In
R. Christopher Gaylor used to avoid the legislative process and the machinery of politics. He paraphrases the line often attributed to Otto von Bismarck: laws, like sausages, are best not to watch in the making. But in 1999, as a member of the AED board, he attended his first Washington Fly-In, and he’s been a regular ever since.
As president of Power Equipment Company, Gaylor has grown to see the value and opportunity of the Fly-In. He laughs that he's "about as apolitical as a person can be," but advises industry leaders and AED members to participate as regularly as possible.
“If you’re not a party to the process, then you’re a victim of the process, and that was clear to me in spades from early on,” he explains. “You don’t have to be a political person who stays in tune with everything that’s going on … but you go into it with a lot of credibility.”
Before he dove into that process, he felt anxious and repulsed by the hectic, high-speed Washington scene, but he quickly came to understand that it was not as forbidding as it initially seemed. After all, legislators and legislative assistants are there to meet constituents. They want to hear from business leaders and build networks, so there's no need to be shy or apprehensive.
“They want to see you,” he says. “For the most part, the business community has a lot of influence. If you come in as a businessperson who’s influencing the direction of the industry, they need to hear your perspective.” Legislators and staff understand that jobs depend on business leaders, and votes depend on jobs. The exchange of ideas and feedback helps facilitate that connection.
Some meetings may take place with a legislative assistant instead of with the legislator; however, that’s a happenstance to embrace. It’s their duty to be knowledgeable, so those conversations can be detailed and productive. Assistants might even know more than the representative does about the particulars of an issue. Gaylor remembers one lunch meeting when a legislator was informed of a legislative provision he’d never even heard of.
“This is a Congressman from Michigan,” he recalls. “We were talking about some of the hidden taxes buried inside the Affordable Care Act that even he was unaware of. These are things that have an impact … you can influence and prioritize.”
He cites that conversation as an instance of influence because the representative actually wasn’t Gaylor’s own. The proximity of lawmakers and leaders at the event means that ideas circulate through and across district lines. That can be a big advantage, especially for business owners with interests in multiple districts.
Attending regularly helps maintain strong relationships with long-serving representatives. It also provides the opportunity to be an early influencer in a new lawmaker’s career. In 2010, for instance, upstart Tea Party Republicans flipped three of Tennessee’s districts, and the Washington Fly-In helped the business community and the new lawmakers get each others’ temperature.
This past year, Gaylor used AED's member scheduling services for the first time. Prior to that, Power Equipment Co. had handled all the logistics themselves. He noted the effectiveness of AED’s team and suggests that other member organizations use those resources as well.
“I’m really impressed with how effective the effort has been, and the quality of the preparation for the member visits,” says Gaylor. “Utilize the resources that AED has available to you; the AED folks are there to help.”
Gaylor reminds industry attendees to shine at the Fly-In. “They [legislators, staff] want to talk to you, and they value your opinion on these things. You’re the star.
“It’s not nearly as intimidating as it may seem,” he adds. Having grown from greenhorn to veteran himself, he appreciates that initial risk; for business leaders and AED members, opportunity awaits.
The 2018 AED Washington Fly-In will take place March 20-22.
Fearless and Upfront: Making Your Voice Heard at the Washington Fly-In
Jim Parker, CEO at Carter Machinery, knows that it’s a competitive world, where everything counts—so it’s vital to take the initiative. AED's annual Washington Fly-In is one such opportunity for engaged business leaders to earn an edge over their competition and shape the future of their industry. Parker is a longtime attendant; the upcoming 2018 Fly-In will be his seventh.
"It’s critical to reinforce the impact of key legislation on our business through face-to-face meetings with our legislators," he says. "If we don’t take time with them, someone else will!"
Carter Machinery is an authorized Caterpillar dealer headquartered in Salem, Virginia. With over 20 locations across Virginia and West Virginia, Carter provides sales, rentals, parts, and service of the Cat line, among others. The company has been in business since 1952, growing and expanding across the region ever since.
Since the organization operates throughout two states, it's important to find time to meet with a number of legislators. AED offers scheduling services to its members, but Carter's personnel handle those logistics themselves.
For Parker, the Fly-In has continued to dramatize the value of industry face time. One of the key benefits is that it helps produce unity; leaders can focus on the most important, timely issues facing their sector. Unity produces results. For instance, tax reform and infrastructure investment have been frequent topics at the Fly-In, and the current Congress has been moving on those issues.
“It serves to highlight the critical few issues facing our industry, including giving us the facts to use in our discussions with congresspeople,” he says. “This alone tends to draw us together.”
Meetings with representatives can be exciting and stressful, especially when particularly influential representatives are in the room. Remember, though, that representatives are there to meet with leaders and hear from constituents: AED members can choose to be the stars. In meetings, turn that knowledge into confidence and apply it to your position.
“Don’t let them off easy,” Parker says. “Be open and fearless with your position. Be assertive in communicating the impact of their action or inaction on your business.” Representatives will recognize that impacts on business become consequences for voters—and engaged voters will reward or rebuke those lawmakers in time.
Parker’s most memorable meeting illustrates the point. At a recent Fly-In, he was talking with Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) about the state of Congress and the direction of the country.
He recalls, “I told Representative Goodlatte that I have yet to meet a member of Congress that is more concerned about the health of the country than s/he is about their own next election—after which he walked out of the meeting without saying a word, very agitated! He obviously heard the message.”
Confidence, fearlessness, and honesty make a lasting impression on lawmakers. It’s critical—for the relationship, for the business, and for the industry at large—to make sure lawmakers understand the consequences of their work.
Parker’s final takeaway is that the Fly-In is a great opportunity, but it’s only one element of a complete strategy. While in Washington he realized that his company needed to bring those encounters back home.
"We need to do a better job of scheduling the legislators to meet with our team at our branch stores,” he says, “so they can better understand our business and the issues we face.”
Ironically, the Fly-In itself helped Parker to realize that it’s not enough. The most successful leaders are working the issues and promoting their influence all the time—and if members aren’t taking the time to do it, someone else is.
The 2018 AED Washington Fly-In will take place March 20-22.